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MPs call for open books on land ownership

20 March 2014

In a Report published on Thursday 20 March 2014, the Scottish Affairs Committee says any government which is serious about land reform needs full and clear information on existing land ownership and values made widely available.

The Committee says Scotland lags behind most comparable European countries in providing such data and calls on the Scottish and UK Governments to address this as a priority.

The Committee heard that Scotland is also “miles behind” other countries in terms of the openness and ease of land transactions. Templates exist which allow land transactions to become simple and straightforward, without the involvement of lawyers.

Chair's comments

Ian Davidson MP, Chair of the Committee, said,

"Land information on Scotland should be at least the same quality as that in Latvia, Georgia and Denmark, to name but three. No government which has any pretentions to land reform can avoid the need for full and clear information on its existing ownership patterns to be widely available. This must include beneficial ownership, to prevent owners hiding behind front companies, trusts or in tax havens. We call on both the UK and Scottish Government to progress schemes of land information on ownership and values as quickly as possible.

The Committee is producing this Interim Report to identify these first and essential steps and to indicate how we intend to progress.

The evidence we have received to date suggests that public policy on inheritance tax, business property relief, agricultural property relief, non-domestic rates and similar financial measures contribute considerably to the preservation of inherited wealth in landed estates and to driving up the price of land, which has become a speculative commodity as much as a productive asset.

We are minded to propose an end to all tax exemptions, subsidies and cosy tax deals unless these can be shown to be in the public interest. We are therefore seeking further evidence on these matters."

Evidence encouraged

Land reform is an important, neglected and intensely political area of public policy and we are expanding this enquiry more widely than we had originally envisaged. We are therefore encouraging other evidence from interested parties on a number of topics including:

  • state aid: where the rules are complex but the responsible authorities have been overly risk averse and unnecessarily restrictive in their interpretation of what’s permissible;
  • the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Review Group: the results of which we await;
  • Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform: implementation and proposals to deal with “non-active” farmers.
  • Community land ownership: where we recognise the apparent contradiction between using public money to buy land which other public policies are making much more expensive; and
  • Opaque and indirect ownership by front companies, trusts and offshore entities.

The Committee intends to undertake a programme of appropriate visits over the next month or so.

Further information